By MARYMICHELLE LOTANO
My grandparents were adults during World War II. My parents were toddlers and I was not even a blip on the radar, pun intended. But, as a child, I knew that World War II had been an experience my grandparent’s generation would never forget. The reason I knew this was because we were surrounded by reminders. There were balls made of rubber bands, paper towels hung to dry to be reused and food reinvented from dinner to breakfast. Nothing was wasted.
Growing up, this seemed completely unnecessary to me. If I wanted a rubber band, I bought them in a package of 50. I knew it wasn’t always necessary to take dinner potatoes and turn them into potato pancakes for breakfast. What I failed to understand was that those drying paper towels represented respect for the understanding and the memory of the scarcity that my grandparents had endured. They went through this so that those around the world who were living in persecution would one day exercise the right to live as they chose.
The Greatest Generation took nothing for granted. They understood the value of freedom, the need to stand in the shoes of the repressed, the necessity of sacrifice and that unchecked prejudice led to hatred and destruction. The men who went into combat went knowing that their purpose was united. The women who flew planes from factories to military bases allowed resources to be used to their greatest advantage. The families who lived on ration coupons did so to enable their sons and daughters to have the supplies they needed to survive overseas.
Yet, while I grew up aware of the implications of World War II, I paid it little mind. It was always interesting to hear my grandparents relay their stories. We occasionally made fun of their odd collections of household items, which we deemed abundant. We did this so we could hear them say, “Well you just never know when the store will be out of rubber bands, young lady.” Followed by a HUMP! emphasized by an emphatic downward nod of the head.
Today, I am reminded of World War II on a regular basis. My son, who is 13 years old, is a self-taught World War II aficionado. He has learned via books, movies, YouTube and a plethora of documentaries. I have taken him to every World War II museum we can get to, only to be astounded at his ability to go toe to toe with the museums docents. I have learned more than I ever imagined possible about the ammunition, airplanes and strategies that defined this war.
So, when we recently had the opportunity to see the documentary USS Indianapolis: The Legacy by Sara Vladic, we attended with great anticipation. The presentation was extremely well attended by the community and veterans from all of the overseas wars.
Having never heard of this particular World War II carrier, I had no idea what the story would hold for us. As the lights dimmed, my expectations were minimal and my curiosity peaked. When the lights came up, my heart was broken and prideful, my eyes were teary, and my gratitude for the life these men preserved for us was abounding.
The men of the USS Indianapolis were attacked and taken down without the military even knowing it had happened. In the middle of the night, floating far out on the sea, hundreds of men died from fire and drowning. Hundreds more were stranded at sea in makeshift lifeboats or free floating in the ocean with no food, no water and no way to signal Mayday. The men remained abandoned in the shark infested waters for five full days, sunburned, dehydrated and starving. A fate none of us can truly comprehend.
My grandparents’ generation understood all of this. They lived it. They endured hardship for it. They believed in it. Those of us born long after World War II will never fully grasp the magnitude of the sacrifices made by this country and the people who saved it for us. Nor will we ever truly understand the peril the world was in and the courage it took to right it.
But documentaries such as USS Indianapolis: The Legacy give Americans, and citizens the world over, a humble glimpse of a type of bravery most of us will never be called upon to produce. They show us the power of the human spirit, the strength of our instinctual desire to survive and the wealth of faith that we all have the ability to draw upon in times of great despair.
Through these people who survived this unimaginable experience, we are reminded that we owe a debt of gratitude to a generation that will soon no longer be with us. We are responsible for preserving the history of their heroic feats and for teaching our children that it is because of these men that our freedom to live as we choose was preserved.
To Sara Vladic, thank you for preserving our history. To North Coast Church, thank you for showing this film and offering us a home to be educated and touched from. And to the Greatest Generation, and the people who currently stand for our freedoms, thank you for protecting our way of life.
Author of Circles of the Soul, Marymichelle Lotano has explored the areas of personal growth, meditation and art. Ms. Lotano is currently a full time writer and mother, residing in Carlsbad, California. Visit: circlesofthesoul.net.